Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

March 13, 2014
Audit finds California's unemployment agency skipped chance to recover $500 million

A new state audit blasts California's Employment Development Department for ignoring an offer of federal help to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in overpaid unemployment benefits.

Thursday's report by the Bureau of State Audits estimates that EDD will have missed out on an estimated $516 million in overpayments from February 2011, when the federal program took effect, to September of this year, when the EDD expects to belatedly begin to participate in it.

About $99 million of that would offset the department's administrative costs, saving the state money amid a time of deep budget reductions. The other $417 million would have paid down the $10 billion debt — with interest — that California owes on federal loans to its insolvent unemployment fund.

EDD officials told auditors that they lacked the staffing needed to compile the necessary computer records to participate in the federal program. Yet the audit, triggered by a whistleblower, found that the EDD estimated in 2012 that it would require only about $323,000 in staff time.

"EDD did not even attempt to hire any contractors to perform the work, so Official B's conclusion that EDD could not hire anyone with the appropriate skills to perform the work was pure speculation at best," the audit reads, referring to an unnamed "high-ranking EDD official," who it described as retired.

March 13, 2014
California health insurance enrollments surpass 923K

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The number of Californians enrolling in coverage through the state's new health insurance marketplace reached 923,832 through Sunday, officials said.

Covered California announced Thursday that 762,174 of the 880,000 residents to select plans through the end of last month were eligible for federal subsidies, surpassing projections for the entire first enrollment period that runs through March 31.

Another 1.34 million are likely to be eligible for Medi-Cal coverage.

"We are rolling toward a strong finish, but we're here to encourage consumers to not wait until March 31 to join the millions of Californians who have already found their pathway to affordable coverage, and enroll today," Executive Director Peter V. Lee said in a prepared statement. "We're building momentum on many fronts: among Latinos, among young people and in communities throughout the state. Californians' desire for health insurance to protect themselves and their families is building on friends telling friends and family telling family."

About 85 percent of all enrollees have paid their first month's premium, Lee added.

PHOTO: A Sacramento State student looks at a pamphlet with information on Covered California on Thusrday, October 16, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

March 13, 2014
Brightening budget makes lawmaker raises a possibility


Do lawmakers deserve a raise?

With rising revenue elevating California above years of gaping budget gaps, a panel that sets elected officials' salaries seemed receptive Thursday to boosting salaries for member of the Legislature.

Members of the California Citizens Compensation Commission will not make a decision until they meet in June, after the state has put out more up-to-date budget numbers. But as California recovers from year of fiscal tumult, commission members said it may be time to contemplate higher salaries.

"If the fiscal situation in the state is improved and is stable, then we need to consider the possibility of raising compensation of legislators and for the constitutional officers," commission member Scott Somers said in an interview after the hearing.

The pay panel voted last year to give lawmakers a five percent raise, hiking their salary to $95,291 a year. That falls short of a full restoration to pre-recession levels, Dalzell said, noting that lawmakers accepted consecutive cuts of five percent and 18 percent.

"I think there are a couple pieces of data that leave room for action," Thomas Dalzell, the commission's chair, said after the hearing. "I think the fact that we are still 18 percent away from where they were five years ago, the salaries of boards of supervisors that we're told to look at and the fact that the increase almost certainly has no impact on the budget - all of that leaves room."

March 13, 2014
California's first-ever toxics list includes baby product

Feuer.JPGA carcinogen commonly found in napping mats for babies and a paint-stripping chemical linked to more than a dozen deaths made a first-ever list of hazardous products state officials released Thursday, putting manufacturers on notice to find alternative ingredients or face government action.

Department of Toxic Substances Control Director Debbie Raphael issued the list during a press event in downtown Sacramento as the next step in a multi-year effort to reduce toxics used in consumer products.

"We are starting a conversation with manufacturers," Raphael said.

The chemicals on the state's new "Priority Products" list were chosen because of their prevalence. More will be added over time.

• Tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate: Also known as TDCPP, This fire retardant has been linked with cancer and infertility. It's used in foam-padded baby products such a playpens and changing mats and binds to dust before it's ingested. Baby goods are a particular concern because infants spend many hours each day sleeping on or near items infused with the chemical.

• Methylene chloride: A chemical found in paint- and varnish-stripping solvents and some surface cleaners. A Michigan State University study found 13 people using products containing the chemical to strip paints or glazes from residential bathtubs died after inhaling fumes between 2000 and 2011.

California lawmakers in 2008 approved a "green chemistry" law that set in motion a process to encourage manufacturers to find cleaner alternatives to hazardous substances in their products.

Manufacturers with products that use a chemical on the list are supposed to notify the toxics department and begin a search for alternatives. Over the next several months the state will hold a series of workshops focusing on the chemicals and then write specific regulations for them.

Products that still contain the toxics once the regulations are set face a range of actions, from government-mandated labeling to an outright ban on selling the products in California.

PHOTO: Former Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angles, in 2009. Feuer, now Los Angeles city attorney, wrote the green chemistry law in 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

March 13, 2014
Bowen and Pew foundation at odds on California's non-voters

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California Secretary of State Debra Bowen made it clear this week that she has some problems with a major non-profit effort to improve elections and increase the number of people registered to vote.

Bowen and David J. Becker, the director of election initiatives for the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Charitable Trusts, shared a panel during a Senate hearing this week on science and innovations to improve voter participation.

The two disagreed soon after sitting down. Becker, citing U.S. Census data and other research, said 8.2 million Californians are eligible but do not register to vote, a number greater than the populations of all but 13 states.

Bowen interjected, saying the eligible-but-unregistered number is actually 6.4 million. Her office's latest registration report shows almost 24.1 million people eligible to vote and almost 17.7 million voters. Becker said the official registration number does not reflect hundreds of thousands of people who have died or moved.

The disagreements continued. Bowen questioned a Pew-organized effort called the Election Registration Information Center, or ERIC. Several nearby states, including Colorado and Utah, participate in the project and share voter-registration data. Its goal is to identify voters who have moved between states, and ensure they are re-registered quickly.

But Bowen said her concerns about the data-sharing project — such as ERIC automatically removing voters from the rolls — have been ignored. "Unfortunately, rather than embrace the concerns and the critics, ERIC simply chose to exclude their critics from the discussion," Bowen said Tuesday. "What happened after I wrote that letter is I was never invited back again to another ERIC meeting."

Not so, say Pew and ERIC officials, who added that they long ago ruled out automatically removing voters flagged by ERIC without first contacting them. Pew, Becker said later, has invited Bowen's office to six Pew-sponsored meetings since January 2011 to discuss ways to improve elections, including ERIC. Pew received no response to most of the invitations, including for a meeting later this month in San Francisco, he said.

"Not having California being part of a really important data exchange...hurts the other states and I think it hurts California, too," Judd Choate, Colorado's director of elections and ERIC's chairman, testified.

This week's hearing was led by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, one of six candidates running to succeed Bowen. At a forum last week, Padilla talked of the importance of registering eligible people to vote but was noncommittal Tuesday about joining Colorado and the other states in ERIC.

PHOTO: Secretary of State Debra Brown at a Capitol hearing in March 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

March 13, 2014
AM Alert: State spotlights toxic consumer goods in California

chemicals.JPGNew regulations adopted last October by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control require manufacturers to seek safer alternatives to harmful chemical products used in consumer goods.

The agency will announce today the first batch of products it is asking companies to find new ways to make. These products contain at least one chemical the department has determined could potentially harm public health or the environment.

The announcement takes place at 10 a.m. at the Cal EPA building on I Street.

VIDEO: Even as they continue to receive their salaries, the Senate's refusal to acknowledge state Sens. Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, and Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, is rather Orwellian, Dan Walters says.

SHOW ME THE MONEY: Is Gov. Jerry Brown making what he deserves? What about the Legislature? The California Citizens Compensation Commission meets at 10 a.m. at Sacramento City Hall to begin discussions on whether any changes should be made to state officeholders' and lawmakers' pay. Last year, the commission handed out five percent raises, undoing some of the cuts made during the recession.

IN MEMORIAM: Gov. Brown will be in Los Angeles this morning to attend the funeral of a police officer who was killed last Friday when his squad car collided with a big rig. The service for Nicholas Lee takes place at 9 a.m. at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

TECH TALK: From Twitter accounts to wiki bills, California legislators have been embracing technology in their public service. Camille Crittenden, deputy director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society at UC Berkeley, will talk about the impact these new online tools and resources can have on democracy and civic engagement, noon at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

CHLORPYRI-FOES: Residents of Tulare County who say they found high levels of the pesticide chlorpyrifos in the air and their bodies are calling for a ban on its use across the state. They will be joined by farm workers and environmental advocates at 10:30 a.m. on the north steps of the Capitol to present petitions to lawmakers.

CELEBRATIONS: Congratulations to Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, and his wife, Laura, who welcomed a new baby boy, Steven Edward, Wednesday morning.

March 13, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Wright, Calderon are legislative 'non-persons'

MC_CALDERON_05.JPGEven as they continue to collect their salaries, the Senate's refusal to acknowledge Sens. Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, and Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, is rather Orwellian, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

PHOTO: Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, at right with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on June 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo


Capitol Alert Staff

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. Twitter: @jimmiller2

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @akoseff

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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